Sunday, August 3, 2008

Algebra 2 is amorphous and has multiple heads

and defies reduction into compact and self-contained little parts. I am still trying to do just that, however. This continues the discussion about applying Dan Meyer's assessment system for Algebra 2, and anyone not deeply interested in this narrow topic may as well go on to the next item in their Reader.

Some time in June, Glenn Waddel wrote:
I have a rough draft of my skills checklist done right now. I am not sure I am going to post it yet. I am not happy with it. I think I am stuck in the “do I have to assess everything?” mode.
More than a month later, that's where I am still... and since time is running out I'm going to post the incomplete work in case that helps accelerate the process.

Glenn has meanwhile posted a carefully worked out list, and written about the tension between assessing specifically enough without introducing an intimidating number of concepts. Reading his list reminded me that the differences between the various versions of Algebra 2 around are significant, and that our final lists will have to be different to accommodate our respective course specifications and student groups.

In particular, my Intermediate Algebra course leaves conics and discrete math for the Trig/Precal course, which uses the same textbook and picks up where my course leaves off. I do not need to include assessments on these topics, then. On the other hand I must make sure that graphical features of quadratics, polynomials and exponentials are covered carefully, as this will not be repeated in Precal, and this increases the number of skills for these topics beyond what may be needed in Glenn's course. Also, Intermediate Algebra is for the students who do not make it to Honors Algebra 2, and so I need to include a lot of Algebra review. Dan Greene's version of Algebra 2 is similar to mine in the topics it covers, but students arrive directly from Algebra 1 without Geometry between, and so may need somewhat less review. I'm guessing that Sam Shah's course is for relatively advanced students. However, while our lists will need to be different in order to take these things into account, comparing notes could still be very useful.

Dan Greene and I met a few weeks ago, and made some progress on breaking down the chapter on Exponential and Logarithmic Functions, a unit where I am replacing all of my concept test items from last year. So far, the unit on Numbers and Functions has been the most demanding unit, I think. There are so many big, abstract and quite unfamiliar ideas there. On the one hand, the process of breaking down this chapter into parts that can be practiced separately may therefore be all the more necessary in order to make it accessible to students. On the other hand, much of the point is for students to recognize an abstract idea, such as the transformation of a function, across pretty different contexts, and this is just hard to assess in a piecemeal way. Or so it seems to me.

Finding a convenient format or platform for technical discussion of how to slice a topic into discrete skills and concepts is a challenge of its own, though. A series of blog posts, one for each chapter, seems both clunky and overly time-consuming (and school starts in just over a week over here). Instead, I've stored my work-in-progress on this Google Site, and if you have time and inclination to think some about what are the essential things to test for each topic or anything else, suggestions would be much appreciated.